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The Seasons They are a-Changin’

CWS Tamale staff wishing this nice truck was ours! Sadly it's just the landlord's...

CWS Tamale staff wishing this nice truck was ours! Sadly it’s just the landlord’s…

First week back in Tamale and Hamatan is in full swing! Hamatan is when a dry-dust wind blows in from the Sahara. This happens from late November until mid-March all over West Africa. This Saharan wind engulfs the city of Tamale every year with a thick orange cloud of dust, leaving us with chilly nights and burning hot days.

Shak tastes the borehole water in Buhijaa

Shak tastes the borehole water in Buhijaa

What does this mean for CWS? Well for the staff it means that we finish our days with an orange dust facemask and dirty feet. For CWS project manager, Peter, it means he comes back from the field with a carrot colored beard. For our 47 communities, the Hamatan wind does not affect water sales per se but the seasonal changing of weather has a big impact on where people get their water.

During Hamatan, it gets drier and drier in and around Tamale. This means that water sources like manmade wells; boreholes and dugouts start to dry up. In many of CWS’ villages, the community water sources change, which creates challenges for the entrepreneurs who run the water businesses. This has several implications. Some women have to close their centers for a few weeks as they transition to treating water from a different source, some have to pay donkeys or motor kings to bring them water to treat and some move their water treatment centers multiple times… All the women are unique in their approach to dealing with seasonal transitions and CWS ensures that they are coming up with a plan that’s right for them.

Fati and Amina aka “Samlenna” or TZ seller are the women who operate the water business in the village of Gbung. When it rains, the women move their center from the dugout to the market in the middle of town and treat collected rainwater. In the Hamatan season,  the people who live in Gbung get their water from a few different places. They get it from a nearby stream and from a closer but smaller dugout that dries up for half the year. No one is collecting household water at the dugout where the polytank initially was built. So for the time being, Fati and Samlenna are paying a motor king to bring them water. The women are working on adjusting the price of water to reflect the increase in water treatment costs. The center is still running despite these seasonal challenges!

Children hanging in Libi

Children hanging in Libi

In nearby Libi, Cheriba and Ramatu closed their center for a month for a number of reasons. In December, the path to their stream where the polytank stand was initially constructed was still muddy and overgrown. Cheriba told CWS field staff that her fellow community members were getting water from a number of sources. Some people got it from manmade wells, some got it from smaller dugouts and some had stored rainwater. She said that if she opened for business nobody would come. She wanted to wait until people started going back to the stream to collect household water.  Ramatu and Cheriba will be opening for business this week!

The well in Tacpuli

The well in Tacpuli

Tacpuli was the lowest performing CWS village in October 2012. Lasinche, the woman who runs the water business in Tacpuli was having a hard time getting people to come to buy water post-rainy season. Many people had rainwater stored in their houses and did not want to make the muddy trek to the dugout to buy clean water. Lasinche tackled the problem on her own and moved the water treatment center to a well that was closer and more accessible for the community. Lasinche kept the center at the well for all of December and for the beginning of January. She moved the center back to the dugout and sales are going well for her!

Memouna and Damu - The women entrepreneurs of the newly implemented Tindan (not to be confused with the Tindan implemented in October)

Memouna and Damu – The women entrepreneurs of the newly implemented Tindan (not to be confused with the Tindan implemented in October)

Weather patterns, climate change and seasonal challenges all play a major role in determining where people get their drinking water and the amount of water that is available year round to treat. In Tacpuli, Gbung and Libi, three villages that are very close in proximity to one another, these factors all affect them in different ways.  After working in these communities for a few months, I’ve noticed that the best solutions are formed organically from the entrepreneurs or the community members themselves. As Shak, the CWS assistant project manager always says, “We are not the ones getting our drinking water from the village.” He makes a good point. While CWS works its hardest to make sure all 47 water businesses are running effectively, we will never be able to control the weather and we are not the ones drinking the water. The women and the people who live in these communities need to be the decision-makers for seasonal problems that arise throughout the year. And this goes for all development projects, not just water.

-Brianán

 

To Be a Woman is Not Easy

When I was grocery shopping in Tamale a few weeks ago, I came across a woman selling bread at a food stand with a banner written across the top that read, “To be a woman is not easy”. Almost all the shops in Tamale have storefront names with powerful and sometimes silly sayings such as this one. To give you some examples,  “Everything by God”, “Serious Man Hot Food”, “Jesus Loves You Barber Shop” or “Home Sweet Home Kenkey”. The names usually make me chuckle but this one made me think.

Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa

Zenabu and her husband in Buhijaa

I immediately thought of the women entrepreneurs that run the water treatment centers in the CWS communities. They are the complete embodiment of this very shop name… to be a woman is not easy in the slightest, especially in a rural village outside of Tamale.

Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! - Sakpalua

Posing for the camera with 40 L of water on her head! – Sakpalua

Lydia, one of the women who runs the water business in Sakpalua, recently talked to Spring 2012 fellow, Chelsea Hodgkins, about what it means to be a woman in Sakpalua versus a woman living in Tamale. “The women in the city have it easy”, Lydia told Chelsea. “In the village, the women go to their farms very early in the morning and then are expected to come home, take care of the children then clean and cook for the family”, she continued. After hearing snippets of their conversation, I wanted to hear more about the lives of the women who run the water businesses on top of farming and taking care of their families.

A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili

A woman making shea butter in Kpanayili

Right now is one of the busiest times of the year for subsistence farmers because it is the peak of the harvest season in the Northern Region of Ghana. After the rains, everyone wants to collect their crops before it gets too dry. Some farmers leave as early as 4:00 AM so they can start working in the morning while it’s still cool. Farmers harvest groundnuts, maize, yam, soy beans, cassava, hot peppers, okra, tomatoes, rice, firewood, tobacco, cotton and cow peas to name a few. Not to mention that when it stops raining, the weddings and funerals start in the North.

So how do the women who run the water businesses find the time or the incentives to sell water during the peak of the harvest season? Well, it’s complicated.  For starters, people have run out of rainwater so the only option they have for clean water is treated water from the polytank. This means that the demand for clean water is there. And the incentive that drives many of the women to work at the centers is the same incentive that gets people to work at desk jobs back in the US, they want to make money to pay the bills. This monetary incentive has to be there because if women work at the centers strictly for the greater good of their communities, they will have no money to pay for aquatabs, broken parts or for the time they could have spent on their farms.

The beautiful Cheriba of Libi

The beautiful Cheriba of Libi

But what happens when people in the communities are collecting water from different sources? This is where the plot thickens. In Kpanayili, the people in the community are collecting water for cooking, cleaning and washing at nearby wells and streams. They will get water from these sources until they dry and then they will go back to getting water at the dugout. As noted before, the women in the communities already have long days so if they can lessen their load by shortening the walk to get water, then they will do it in a heartbeat. The problem is that the water treatment center is next to the dugout. This is not the case in all CWS communities at this time but there are several that deal with challenges such as this during the transition from the rainy season to the dry season.

The new moved and improved water treatment center - Tacpuli

The new moved and improved water treatment center – Tacpuli

So how can we convince people to make the extra walk just for clean water, while we wait for these other sources to dry? It’s not easy. While it may seem like clean water should be high on the priority list, the reality is that it’s not for everyone. Farmers are focusing on their harvest and prioritizing food over clean water because this is their sustenance. Farming is how people survive. If that means drinking contaminated water for 2 weeks so that they do not have to walk as far and as a result get more time on their farms, then they’ll take the risk.

Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima - Manguli

Kusumi and her new baby girl, Fatima – Manguli

In the long run, what will 2 weeks of diarrhea do if it means having more money for the family this year? If you asked this question to a public health official, they would answer A LOT. But the women working in these communities are not public health officials; they are simply trying to make their work as easy as possible. Because after all, to be a woman is not easy.

-Brianán

 

Rain, Rain Won’t You Stay?

While it may be summer where you are, in Tamale, the rainy season is in full swing. There are two seasons in Ghana – the rainy season and the dry season. So the terms “winter, spring, summer, fall” don’t mean much here. The rainy season usually lasts from June until October and August is the month when the rainy season is in full force.  This year Tamale is not getting the rainfall that it normally does in August. It has been raining here about once or twice a week at most in comparison to last year where it rained heavily almost every other day. Rain is crucial for several reasons. Most farmers plant their crops (yams, cassava, groundnuts, corn, rice) at the beginning of the rainy season and rely upon the rain so that their harvest will grow. Irrigation systems are not common among these rural, subsistent farmers. The rainy season is also a nice break from the brutally hot sun that Ghanaians endure for most of the year.

The flooded road to Buhijaa. Amin contemplating– to cross or not to cross? After talking to the boys on the road, we opted for the latter when they told us that a moto had just stopped working after being submerged in mud and water. Until next time Buhijaa!

This woman in Gbandu keeps tally marks on the wall behind her safe storage container to track how many times she has gone to buy water since opening day!

For CWS villages, the rain is very much in line with drinking water. All of the 38 CWS communities rely upon surface water (usually in the form of dugouts) in order for their water treatment centers to function. When it rains, their dugouts fill with water and when it does not rain, this increases their chances of their dugout drying up during the dry season. A dry dugout means no water to treat, which means a closed water treatment center. For example, in Kpachiyili, a village that was implemented in during the winter 2012 fellowship program, they have not been getting much rain. The water level of their dugout is much lower than it usually is this time of year. And their dugout is not the only one. Rain dance anyone?

Sana, the lady who runs the water treatment center in Yapalsi, gives Amin fresh milk to bring home.

Corn harvesting has just begun in Gbung!

A donkey businessman in Kpalung— this boy carries water from the dugout for Azaratu to treat at the water treatment center that is now in town. In June, this businessman was charging 60 pesawas to fill one 200 L drum of water, an obscene amount considering what Azaratu rakes in! After holding a village meeting, this donkey man is now filling free of charge in exchange for his family to use the center for free.

Many of the CWS villages (but not all) also have households that have at least one tin roof that they use to harvest rainwater. So many of the villages will collect rainwater with their safe storage containers to drink and rainwater with their pots for cooking, cleaning and washing. At this time of year, the rainfall is usually so frequent that people can rely upon this system to harvest drinking water. However, now that it is not raining as often, their 20 L  buckets of clean rainwater run out before the next rain comes. In several CWS partnership communities, such as Jerigu, Chani, Nyamaliga, Kpalung, Laligu, Libi, Kagburashe and Kpanayili, the CWS field staff has encountered households that transfer rainwater collected from their pots (that they also use to hold dugout water) into their safe storage containers. This is a big red flag –contamination alert!! And the water samples taken from these containers almost always come back positive for e-coli.

Wahab posing with Fuseina, the lady that runs the water treatment center in Kurugu Vohoyili, and some of the women making Shea butter!

The CWS field staff has been upping the household visits, encouraging people to buy drinking water from the water treatment centers rather than wait for a rain that may or may not come. The households that do this are usually unaware that their water is contaminated. If the rainwater looks clear, then how can it be contaminated? To address this issue head on, CWS field staff, Peter, Shak, Wahab and Amin, have proposed starting short, simple educational presentations to hold in classrooms and in village meetings, to promote germ theory awareness in villages where this has become a problem.  As of now, we are all praying for rain in Tamale, more updates to come.

-Brianan

Peter fixing a leaky bucket in Gbung

A Week of Monitoring

I have officially been in Tamale for a week now, and what a week it has been! After spending a few days getting the office all ready for the Summer Fellows, I headed out to the field to help Shak, Peter, Wahab and Amin monitor some of the newer villages that I had never been to before (crazy!)  It was so much fun to be back in the field and to see how awesome the water businesses are doing in these new communities! Over the past four days I visited Yapalsi, Laligu, Kpalung, Kagburashe, Libi, Gbung (an oldie but goodie), Sakpalua, Buja, Kadula, Kpaniyilli, Kurugu Vohoyilli, and Kpachiyilli!

 

Everyone in Laligu was asking about the 2012 Winter Fellows!

 

Shak monitoring water sales in Yapalsi

 

Amin conducting household visits in Kplung

 

Peter and I hanging with some of our favorite kiddos in Gbung

Rainy season clouds…

 

Peter and Wahab checking out the water level in Kagburashe’s polytank

 

Me and Wahab with the ninos in Gbung

-Kate

 

 

 

 

Voices from the Field: Team I

Kristen and Sarah hanging out with the awesome kids from Buja while on our way to do some household visits

Ahntray from Team I! Today we hit the road at 7:30am and began Day 1 of monitoring in our village called Buhijaa. We went household to household to check that each family using their blue bucket for clean drinking water from the polytank. If we found a household that wasn’t using it properly, we would have them correct it on the spot. Fortunately, almost every household we monitored today had a full bucket of clear drinking water! We took a sample of each and went to the lab for testing to be sure their water is free of E Coli and other bacteria.

Melissa taking a water sample to test in our lab

It is fun because we get to have conversations with the women in each household to ask them about how they are enjoying the water and make sure everything is running properly. Their answer was always: YES! We love the work you’ve done!

Kristen, Shak, Sarah and Melissa in Buja

The chief has been so thankful that we came to their village to help provide them with clean water and keep them healthy. Everyday we greet him and he gives us his blessing. Today, he gave us a live chicken and a lot of yams and explained how he wished he could do more for us. Sarah had the pleasure of riding home in the back of Shak’s truck with the chicken tied up by her side. And let’s just say, it’s not exactly the smoothest or fastest ride to our village. We are about an hour and a half away from Tamale and parts of it could be debated as to whether it is even actually a road or not!

Team I: Kristen Sarah, Shak and Melissa with our chicken from Buja!

As our time here draws to a close, we will be going out for dinner as a group with all the fellows to a restaurant called SWAD. See you back in the states in a few days!

All the best,

Melissa, Kristen, and Sarah